On July 10, 2018, a De Havilland DHC3T Otter airplane, N3952B, crashed into mountainous terrain near Ketchikan, Alaska. The plane held eleven occupants: a pilot and ten passengers. All of the passengers were injured, six seriously. The plane was registered to Blue Aircraft, LLC, and was operated by Taquan Air as a commercial on-demand flight. It was transporting guests staying at the Steamboat Bay Fishing Club on Noyes Island to Ketchikan, Alaska. Visual meteorological conditions were marginal though the flight was conducted under visual flight rules. Weather at the time forecast cloudy and partly cloudy conditions with some in-cloud icing. No turbulence was expected. The pilot held a transport pilot certificate for single and multi-engine land and sea ratings, as well as instrument ratings. He had almost 27,000 hours of flight experience, including 2,700 hours in Alaska.
The geographic area of the flight consists of coastal waterways and mountainous terrain. The Global Positioning System (GPS) data from the flight showed that the plane proceeded east and then made a 270 degree turn toward Prince of Wales Island Lake before turning east again toward the Sulzer Portage near Hydaburg. The pilot stated that as he progressed into the Sulzer Portage, his visibility decreased due to rain and clouds. He attempted to turn around, but before completing the turn, he saw what he thought was a body of water below and became disoriented. He soon realized they were approaching a snow-covered mountain and tried to initiate a steep climb but was not able to clear the terrain and collided with the mountain. After the crash, the US Coast Guard attempted a rescue but were unable to search the upper part of the area due to poor visibility. Ultimately, one of the passengers provided GPS data from her cell phone to allow rescuers to find them.
The airplane was equipped, as required, with a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), but the plane was not receiving alerts at that time. Informal company policy was to leave the TAWS alerts off since they were considered a nuisance at lower altitudes. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation also revealed generally insufficient and confusing operational controls, including the Director of Operations not being on-site at most times; and a confusing chain of command led to “routine” delegation of operational control to pilots instead of flight coordinators. These processes led to confusion over when the flight should have been changed from a visual flight plan to an instrument flight plan, which may have allowed the pilot to avoid the accident. The lack of clear processes and lines of command also made it unclear who had the authority to cancel the flight and under what conditions.
Slack Davis Sanger represents several passengers in this on-going matter.Investigative Report
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